Throwback Thirstday: Saturday’s Children (1940)
Back with another Throwback Thirstday article all about my favorite deceased paramour, Mr. John Garfield. Raise your hand if you think I should just rename this series “the John Garfield Series?” I’m seriously contemplating it. Based on a play by the Epstein brothers, Saturday’s Children is the second directorial outing from Vincent Sherman, who made his debut the year prior with the horror sequel, The Return of Doctor X (1939). He’d go on to make several melodramas similar to Saturday’s Children, starring some of the biggest female names in Hollywood. This film, though, is similar in tone and performance to Garfield’s own debut in Four Daughters, but the script takes the time to examine the struggles of being a young couple, weighing their own love for each other with their individual needs for personal autonomy and the struggles of a grueling economy.
Bobby Halvey (Anne Shirley) is a sweet-natured young woman who knows nothing about love and men. She gets a job at her father’s company where she meets Rims Rosson (Garfield). The two fall in love but Rims has dreams of going to the Philippines to make his fortune. Bobby, fearful of losing him, decides to trap him into marriage only for the two to go through a string of bad luck.
We love classic films because, nine times out of ten, they’re fantasies. Even when characters go through hard times, there’s a tacit awareness that everything will work out. Saturday’s Children has that conceit, but it spends most of its runtime actively having characters discuss things in an authentic manner. Bobby is a good girl, but she falls back on bad advice, courtesy of her older sister, Florrie (Lee Patrick), who’s in a marriage that, while comical, is fraught with unspoken tension. Bobby’s father, played by Claude Rains, is supportive of his daughter and knows she’ll be all in right in a way different from his eldest, but he still believe she’s naive. And she is.
Anne Shirley, Anne of Green Gables herself, is the perfect embodiment of the all-American girl, and yet there’s a logical toughness to her performance. When she meets Rims, she’s definitely over-the-moon, but is scared to look too eager. Florrie has convinced her that, in order to get Rims, Bobby has to show how desirable she is, and that’s by perpetuating this idea that other men are competing for her attentions. It’s funny to watch in 2018, but not surprising. Women are still told they need to present themselves as attractive, first and foremost, and watching Bobby take bad idea upon bad idea is relatable.
But this column isn’t called Throwback Thirstday for nothing! John Garfield was best known for his gritty noirs, but I’m all for John Garfield – domesticated romantic man. He isn’t the downtrodden black cloud in this as he was in Four Daughters. Instead he’s an inventor with big dreams of turning hemp into silk. He wants to be a revolutionary, a hero, yet he can’t hide the fact that he also wants to be loved. His relationship with Shirley’s Bobby is darling and different from his previous work with Priscilla Lane. As the audience sees Bobby and Rims struggle to go about their morning routine with construction going on outside, there’s an equality to their relationship. They’re in this together. Garfield takes away the cynicism of his past performances and replaces it with a hardscrabble attitude. If he can’t go off to the Philippines and change the world, then dammit he’s going to do the same thing at home. There’s also something about John Garfield in glasses that boasts maximum swoon potential.
At times Saturday’s Children plays like Four Daughters if it was just about Garfield and Lane’s characters. Bobby starts to believe her marriage is stifling her husband and decides to enact a plan for their divorce. It’s a silly, yet selfless, gesture that only goes as far as the plot needs it to. You certainly feel how much of a toll it takes on Bobby, but Rims comes off like a dupe. It’s interesting to watch this now and question whether Bobby’s “trapping” of Rims, first by feigning desirability then being told to fake a pregnancy, is right. Shirley’s so likeable that you never feel she’s reveling in pulling Rims astray. If anything she’s persuaded to do this by bad advice and seriously grapples with the situation.
Saturday’s Children is a hearty mix of urban (at the time) struggle and melodramatic romance. Garfield and Shirley make a fine pair and this works as a great companion piece to the Four Daughters series. Did I mention John Garfield speaks Spanish in it, too?
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Kristen Lopez View All
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.
Re: “Women are still told they need to present themselves as attractive first and foremost”. Male or female straight or gay being attracted to someone is how relationships start. Ergo being attractive IS first and foremost!
Right, but women are often told that attractiveness is the ONLY thing they should be focused on, and that was heightened during the classic era. Yes, aesthetics are still weighted in the foundation of relationships, but men aren’t told their only goal in life is to be attractive. Thanks for reading!
Men are told that money and power should be the focus of their lives.And that enough money and power will overcome their lack of physical attractiveness. See Henry Kissinger’s remark-“Power is the ultimate aphrodisiac.” A man’s quest for money and power was often the plot of the classic era.
Right, I’m simply explaining the context of my statement. Both genders have their own stereotypes.
I watched this just recently and thought it was a bit dull. But reading your review has given me a new perspective on it. Thanks.
It’s lower-level Garfield, to be sure, and it’s got flaws but if you go in with tempered expectations I think you’ll be surprised. Let me know what ya think if you give it a second chance.
I can see you are a huge fan of John Garfield! Who would not be? He is so charming and handsome. It is true that he makes a great pair with Anne Shirley!
I think I crossed over from fan to stalker, haha.